Karl Ove Knausgaard interview: The acclaimed novelist on fatherhood, his funeral song and getting around to Finnegans Wake

The Norwegian author is best-known for 'My Struggle' ('Min Kamp'), his celebrated series of six autobiographical novels

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What drives you to write?

It's a way of being for me. It's unthinkable not to write. It's the only place where I can find complete calm and harmony. Where, at the same time, I am not my present self, I am somewhere else.

The series has come in for immense praise. Zadie Smith said she needed the next volume 'like crack'. How does that feel?

It's impossible to relate to. I don't look on my own writing like that at all. What people say about the book and what the books are in my opinion are two very separate things. When I'm out at events and doing interviews, that's one life. And then there's real life which is the books as I consider them and my family.

But it must be nice…

I am very happy that people are saying that – it's the best thing you can hope for of course. But it doesn't affect my writing. I have the same problems in my writing as I had before – no self-confidence – so it hasn't changed anything in my actual writing. But I think that's good. Writing is about taking risks, about being in uncertain territory and I still am there.

The title of the series, My Struggle, has proved controversial. Have you read Mein Kampf?

Yes. It is very fascinating and interesting but it is a very boring book by a very indignant man. It's only interesting in light of what happened. In itself it's almost worthless. The strange thing and the thing you can't understand is the hatred towards the Jews. It's so extremely intense. Also, his recollection of his upbringing and his father and his mother is as untrue as it can be. I was interested in this as a representation of the self – that's what I was writing about.

What's on your bedside table?

I've been reading Flaubert's Letters for a couple of months, a little piece every day. And On the Soul by Aristotle because I'm writing about it. But I'm not reading very much at the moment – I've been working a lot.

What's your desert island book?

There's one I haven't read which I think could occupy me for the next 20 years. I think you could almost learn languages from it, and that's Finnegans Wake.

And what's the most overrated book in the literary canon?

I just re-read Hemingway and I found him underrated – he was much better than I thought he should be. But I don't know, the most overrated book... I can't think of any.

Do you listen to music while writing?

I listen to a lot of the things I listened to when I was young. I'm listening to War on Drugs, Bob Dylan. Midlake, I love. Those kinds of things.

What song would you have played at your funeral?

A Norwegian Psalm called "Deilig Er Jorden", which means something like the 'earth is wonderful'.

Your relationship with your father is central to the book. You have four kids. How are you doing as a father?

I enjoy it more and more. It was very hard to start out; just having children was a shock. My goal was that they should not be afraid of me and that's the only thing I want to achieve and I don't think they are.

Are you optimistic about the world they're growing up into?

Yeah, I do. There is a German writer who said that every generation has the key to their own time, which I think is true. It's exciting to just send them out into the future – and then it's up to them, really.

What's your most cherished memory?

I think the most amazing moment in my life was when I had my first child. And there is a moment in my second novel where I was in an ecstatic, manic state of mind where I thought everything is possible. That's my second memory.


Author Karl Ove Knausgaard, 46, is best-known for ‘My Struggle’ (‘Min Camp’), his celebrated series of six autobiographical novels. Published in 2009, the first book in the series has gone on to be translated into 22 languages. Knausgaard now lives in Österlen, Sweden, with his wife, the writer Linda Boström Knausgaard and their four children. Dancing in the Dark, the fourth instalment of My Struggle, is out now